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Design and Test of Pneumatic Systems

for Production Automation

Giorgio Figliolini and Pierluigi Rea

LARM - Laboratory of Robotics and Mechatronics

DiMSAT, University of Cassino
G. Di Biasio, 43 - 03043 Cassino, ITALY
e-mail: figliolini@unicas.it and rea@unicas.it

This paper deals with the teaching activity on the This paper deals with the teaching activity on the
design and test of pneumatic and electro-pneumatic design and test of pneumatic and electro-pneumatic
systems, which is carried out at the University of systems, which has been carried out within the course
Cassino in Italy, since the academic year 1994 / 95. of “Regulation and Control of Mechanical Systems”
In particular, the design and test of a vacuum gripper for mechanical engineers at the Faculty of Engineering
and an automatic packaging machine, are proposed as of the University of Cassino in Italy, since the
examples of components and systems operating in academic year 1994/95. In addition, according to the
on/off environment. reform of the Italian University, the courses of “Fluid
Likewise, a proportional pressure valve and a robotic Automation” and “Fluid Servo-Systems” have been
automatic packaging are presented as examples of conceived and activated since the academic year
components and systems operating in analogue 2003/04 for mechanical engineers at the same Faculty,
environment for the production automation. which are given at last year for undergraduates and
graduates, respectively.
1. Introduction Moreover, although after a suitable simplification, the
Pneumatic and electro-pneumatic components find contents of these courses are continuously improved
several applications in the industrial environment, and implemented of new results, which are obtained by
mainly to solve problems of product automation. a strong theoretical and experimental research activity
Most of the applications are in the field of the low-cost on these topics, as reported in [7-13].
automation because the traditional pneumatic and The course of “Fluid Automation” deals with the
electro-pneumatic components are conceived to work fundamentals of the digital pneumatics and electro-
in on/off environment. In particular, a great pneumatics, since the analysis of components, as
development of the electro-pneumatics has been due to actuators, valves and sensors, up to the design and
the development of the electronics, which has given control of automatic systems in on/off environment.
many other solutions in terms of sensors, controllers All this theoretical teaching activity is supported by a
and mechatronic devices. consistent practical activity, which is carried out at
Moreover, the electro-pneumatics is not only on/off, LARM (Laboratory of Robotics and Mechatronics) in
but several analogue components can be found, as Cassino because of suitable test-beds. Hard-wired logic
proportional valves in pressure or flow, which can be systems with pneumatic and relay technologies are
used to design suitable servo-systems with good static designed, assembled and tested, while different
and dynamic performances. automatic cycles are obtained through a suitable
Some books dealing with pneumatics and electro- programming of PLCs.
pneumatics can be found in literature, as reported in In particular, the design and test of a vacuum gripper
[1-6], but also a research activity can be found, as in and an automatic packaging machine, are proposed as
[7-14]. In particular, the design of a biped walking examples of components and systems operating in
robot with pneumatic actuation was proposed in [7], on/off environment.
some electro-pneumatic force control systems for Likewise, a proportional pressure valve and a robotic
gripper and robotic hands were proposed in [8-10], and automatic packaging are presented as examples of
the modeling and experimental investigation of electro- components and systems operating in analogue
pneumatic components were reported in [11-13]. environment of the production automation.
2. Design and test of a vacuum gripper a three-way/two-position solenoid/spring-return valve
Vacuum grippers can be used for mechanical handling 1, the ejector 2 that is provided of a suitable release
and low-cost automation as gripping components device and a suction-cup 3. The release device lets to
during robotic manipulations. Some applications can be apply a positive pressure in the chamber between the
found as vacuum egg lifter, high speed labeling suction-cup and the object in order to release it quickly.
machine, vacuum feeding sheet of carton or steel. In this paper, the design and test of the vacuum gripper
The design of vacuum grippers is usually based on the of Fig.1 is presented through suitable sketches of the
use of ejectors driven by compressed air because they pneumatic circuit and results of several experimental
represent a compact and economical solution, which tests, which have been carried out at LARM in
can be obtained through single or multi-ejectors. Cassino. Thus, the flow-rate diagrams of Figs.4 to 6 for
A typical ejector is a Venturi pipe between a supply the valve of type Metalwork SOV-23-SOS-NC and for
port to the exhaust port, while a third vacuum port is the ejector of type Festo VAK ¼ have been determined
connected to a suction-cup and in particular, to the in agreement with the ISO 6358 [14] by using the
inner chamber, which is obtained when the suction-cup experimental test-bed of Fig.2.
is in contact with the object to grasp. In particular, this test-bed is composed by the valve 1
The holding force of a suction-cup corresponds usually or the pneumatic component to test, the metering pipes
to the maximum force as the product of the area of the 2 and 3 to detect the upstream PUP and downstream
inner sealing lip and the depression inside the chamber. PDW pressures, respectively, through the pressure
However, a minimum safety factors of 2 for horizontal transducers 4 and 5, as displayed also in Fig.3; the
surfaces and 4 for vertical surfaces is recommended. adjustable choke valve 6 in order to set the downstream
In particular, the electro-pneumatic circuit of a vacuum pressure; the flow-meter 7 and the supply operating
gripper is shown in Fig.1, as composed by unit 8 to ensure a constant pressure supply PS.

(2) 1

(1) 2 3

(3) 4 5

Fig.1 Electro-pneumatic circuit of the vacuum gripper: Fig.3 Particular view of the test-bed of Fig.2: 1) test-
1) three-way / two-position solenoid / spring-return valve; 2) and 3) tubes for measuring the upstream and
valve; 2) ejector with release device; 3) suction-cup downstream pressures; 4) and 5) pressure transducers.

(1) (7)
(8) (4) (5)


Fig.2 Sketch of the test-bed for measuring the flow-rate across the valve according to the ISO 6358

Q V1 [dm (ANR) / min]

Ps P* P0
400 GAC


200 Pv
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
PDW [bar abs]
Fig.4 Flow-rate QV1 of the valve from the supply port at Fig.7 Scheme of the pneumatic circuit of the vacuum
pressure PS = 7 bar abs to the outlet port at pressure PDW gripper when the valve is operated (cut-off valve VG
closed or open sketches the suction-cup in grasp or not)

The flow-rate QV1 across the valve from the supply port
700 at the constant pressure PS = 7 bar abs to the outlet port
at pressure PDW is reported in the diagram of Fig.4,
while the diagram of the flow-rate QV2 across the valve
Q V2 [dm (ANR) / min]

from the outlet port at pressure PUP to the exhaust port at
constant pressure P0 = 1 bar abs is reported in Fig.5. The
400 experimental points are indicated through small circles,

while the theoretical flow-rates according to the ISO
6358 are shown in continuous line [14].
200 Likewise, the flow-rate diagrams of Fig.6 for the ejector
have been obtained, where the flow-rate QE with the
vacuum port closed, the flow-rate QEF with the vacuum
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 port free have been measured versus the upstream
PUP [bar abs] pressure. The air consumption QAC has been evaluated as
difference between QEF and QE.
Fig.5 Flow-rate QV2 of the valve from the outlet port at Figure 7 shows a scheme of the pneumatic circuit for the
pressure PUP to the exhaust port at pressure P0 = 1 bar abs vacuum gripper, while the Fig.8 shows both diagrams of
QV1 from Fig.4 and that of QE from Fig.6.

140 300

QE Flow-rate
120 QEF Flow-rate Free
QAC Air Consumption 250
Q E, QEF, QAC [dm (ANR) / min]

Q V1, Q E [dm (ANR) / min]






0 0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
PUP [bar abs] PUP, PDW [bar abs]

Fig.6 Flow-rate across the ejector of the vacuum gripper: Fig.8 Working point (indicated through a square-marker)
QE flow-rate with the vacuum port closed; QEF flow-rate of the vacuum gripper with its suction-cup in grasp, as
with the vacuum port free; QAC air consumption intersection of the curves of QV1 and QE by Figs.4 and 6
In particular, the inner restriction between the supply Cylinder A is provided of suitable suction-cups in order
port and the outlet port of the valve is sketched through a to grasp nine bottles at same time and put them in the
pneumatic resistance working between the pressures Ps
and P*. The ejector is sketched through a pneumatic carton box. Cylinder C actuates a suitable mechanism
resistance, which is connected with a small tank that allows the closure of the carton box and finally
corresponding to the chamber between the suction-cup cylinder D completes the packaging with an adhesive
and the object in grasp. In this operating condition, the stream, which is attached on the cartoon by means of a
ejector works with three ports at pressures P*, Pv and P0, suitable roller.
respectively (the cut-off valve VG is closed). Instead, The electro-pneumatic circuit of the proposed on/off
when the vacuum port is free (the cut-off valve VG is automatic machine is reported in Fig.10, where each
open), Pv is equal to P0 and the flow-rate QEF is obtained. double-acting cylinder is operated through a five-
The cut-off valve VG is reported in the scheme of Fig.7 way/two-position solenoid-solenoid valve, while twelve
just with the aim to consider the case with the object in Reed are used as end-stroke sensors for the pneumatic
grasp for VG closed or not for VG open. cylinders.
Moreover, the mass flow-rate GV1 across the valve, and
The proposed on/off automatic packaging machine
the mass flow-rates GE, GEF and GAC across the ejector,
works according to the cycle, which is represented in the
are represented in Fig.7 as related to the volumetric
Grafcet diagram of Fig.11, where the command signals
flow-rates QV1, QE, QEF and QAC respectively.
of the pneumatic cylinders are reported for each phase of
Therefore, referring to the Fig.8, the working point of the
the automatic cycle under the condition imposed by the
vacuum gripper that is indicated with a square-marker,
feed-back signals that come from the sensor system.
has been evaluated by intersecting the flow-rate diagram
Thus, the packaging machine works as an event-based
of Fig.4 for the valve and the flow-rate diagram of Fig.6
system in on/off environment. In particular, referring to
for the ejector. This intersection point gives the pressure
P* of Fig.7 and the flow-rate Q* across the vacuum the Grafcet of Fig.11, in the first phase the cylinder D
gripper when the suction-cup is in grasp. moves downward by pushing the roller on the box;

2. On/off automatic packaging

A lay-out of the proposed on/off automatic packaging of
bottles of water is shown in Fig.9. The automatic a0 a1 b0 b1
machine is supposed to be provided of six pneumatic A B
cylinders A, B, C, D, E and F in order to perform the
automatic packaging through suitable on/off
displacements. In particular, it is supposed that each
carton box reaches the position in front at the rigid plate, A+ A- B+ B-
which is attached to the piston rod of the cylinder B,
because of the cylinder F, while the bottles reach the
right position because of the cylinder E. c0 c1 d0 d1

A C+ C- D+ D-
D e0 e1 f0 f1

B F E+ E -
F+ F-

Fig.9 Three-dimensional sketch of the proposed lay-out Fig.10 Electro-pneumatic circuit of the automatic
for the automatic packaging of bottles of water machine of Figs.9 and 10
in the second phase, both cylinders F and E are moved RUNG1

"m1" "FL7" "FL1" "D-" "FL4" "c1" "a1" "A+"

outstroke, by positioning an open carton box in front at ( R) ( R)

the cylinder B and nine bottles under the cylinder A, "D+"

( S)
respectively; in the third phase, cylinder D is moved ( S)

"FL7" "C+"
upward; in the forth phase, cylinders E and F return at ( R) ( R)

starting instroke position, while A and C are moved "FL1" "C-"

( S)
( S)
outstroke, in order to grasp the bottles and the bending "FL4"
parts of the carton box, respectively; in the fifth phase, A END
( R)

and C move upward by lifting the bottles and closing the RUNG2 "FL5"
( S)
"FL1" "d1" "E-"
carton box, respectively; in the sixth phase, cylinder B ( R)
makes the positioning of the empty carton box; in the "E+"
seventh phase, cylinder A makes the packaging of the ( S)
"FL5" "a0" "c0" "B-"
bottles in the carton box, while B moves instroke; ( R)
( R)

finally, cylinder A moves upward to start a new loop. "F+"
( S)
( S)
This automatic cycle has been programmed in Ladder, as "FL5"
reported in Fig.12, and implemented in a PLC controller ( R)
( R)

of type Festo FPC 404 in order to test the proposed "FL6"

on/off automatic packaging on the test-bed of Fig.14. ( S)
( S)

"FL6" "b1" "B+"
"FL2" "D+"
0 "e1" "f1"
( R)
( R)

m "D-"
( S)
( S)

1 D+ "FL2"
( R)
( R)

d1 "FL3"
( S)
( S)
2 F+ E+ "FL6"
( R)
e1 * f1 RUNG4 "FL7"
"FL3" "d0" "E+" ( S)
3 D– ( R)

d0 "E-" END
( S)
4 E– F– A+ C+ "F+"
( R)
"FL7" "a1" "b0" "A+"
( R)
e0 * f0 * a1 * c1 "F-" "A-"
( S) ( S)
5 A– C– "A-"
( R)
a0 * c0 "A+"
( R)

( S)
6 B+ "C-"

b1 ( R)

7 A+ B– ( S)

a1 * b0 ( R)

8 A– ( S)

a0 END

Fig.11 Grafcet diagram for the automatic packaging Fig.12 Ladder-diagram for the automatic packaging
V2 V1

Fig.13 Test of the electro-pneumatic circuit of Fig.10 for CA

the automatic packaging of bottles of water
4. Experimental analysis of a pressure S
proportional valve VR
A three-way pneumatic pressure proportional valve with
double plunger and a command block that is composed
by a pair of modulated digital valves is analyzed and
experimentally tested. A section of the valve of type
Lucifer EPP3 J-21-U-100-10, actually Parker P3P-R, is
shown in Fig.14, while the electro-pneumatic circuit of Fig.14 Section of the proportional valve, type Lucifer
its internal mechatronic devices is shown in Fig.15. Honeywell EPP3 J 21 U 100 10, actually Parker P3P-R
In particular, the actuation system is composed by the
plungers 1 and 2, which can connect the supply port S to An experimental analysis of this pressure proportional
the outlet port C, or S to the vent port V. At the rest valve has been carried out in order to determine its static
condition of Fig.14, the valve is closed because the and dynamic performances.
spring pushes upward both plungers by closing the The static characteristic curve of Fig.16 has been
supply port S. Moreover, the controlling pressure inside determined between the electric reference signal VREF
the servo-chamber keeps both plungers in contact by and the outlet pressure PC. A static gain KV = 0.99917
closing the connection of the outlet port C with the vent bar rel / V has been evaluated.
port V. Thus, the outlet pressure can be kept at the set The experimental frequency response has been analyzed
value and some disturbance is detected by the internal and represented in the Bode diagrams of Figs.17 and 18.
pressure sensor in order to inform the electronic The experimental points are indicated through small
controller to compensate the disturbance. In fact, circles in the diagrams of Figs.16 to 18.
because of a disturbance or because of a changing of the The frequency response in the time domain can be
electric reference signal VREF , the outlet pressure PC is analyzed by referring to the diagrams of Figs.19 to 21.
changed consequentially. When the pressure PC has to
increase, both plungers are moved downward against the 24V DC
spring by connecting S to C, while when PC has to
decrease, the lower plunger in pushed by the spring V2
against the valve body and the upper plunger is moved
upward by connecting C to V.
Thus, the positioning of the plungers is mainly given by sensor V1
the equilibrium between the resulting force of the U
absolute control pressure, within the servo-chamber, and
that due to PC. In particular, the pressure inside the PC
servo-chamber is controlled by means of two 2/2 (two-
way/two-position) valves V1 and V2, which are installed PS
in supply and discharge, respectively, in order to obtain
an equivalent three-way proportional flow valve. PV
The closed-loop control of the pressure is carried out
through a suitable electronic board that is situated in the Fig.15 Electro-pneumatic circuit of the valve by taking
internal upper part of the valve (not shown in Fig.14). into account its internal mechatronic devices
6 5


PC [bar rel]

3 2.5


1 VREF [V]
0.5 PC [bar rel]

0 0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5 5.5 6
Time [sec]

Fig.16 Static characteristic curve between the VREF Fig.19 Frequency response in the time domain for a
voltage input signal and the outlet pressure PC sinusoidal input signal with VA = 3 V, A = 1.5 V and
(static gain of the valve KV = 0.99917 bar rel / V ) frequency f = 0.6 Hz

5 5




-5 2.5

0.5 PC [bar rel]

-15 -1 0
0 1 2 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 3
10 10 10
Frequency [Hz] Time [sec]

Fig.17 Bode diagram (module) of the valve for a Fig.20 Frequency response in the time domain for a
sinusoidal input signal VREF with average value VA = 3 V sinusoidal input signal with VA = 3 V, A = 1.5 V and
and amplitude A = 1.5 V frequency f = 2.2 Hz

0 5

Phase [deg]


-140 1
-160 0.5 PC [bar rel]

-180 -1 0
0 1 2 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 3
10 10 10
Time [sec]
Frequency [Hz]

Fig.18 Bode diagram (phase) of the valve for a Fig.21 Frequency response in the time domain for a
sinusoidal input signal VREF with average value VA = 3 V sinusoidal input signal with VA = 3 V, A = 1.5 V and
and amplitude A = 1.5 V frequency f = 7.95 Hz
5. Robotic automatic packaging
An multilayer automatic packaging of cylindrical Z
products in group of four for each layer has been (i)
considered in order to analyze the performances of a
Cartesian robot with pneumatic actuation and electronic ( j+1)=( j+3)
control. Moreover, a suitable programming in Ladder of (i+1)=(i+3)
the PLC controller has been carried out and tested for
controlling a part of the system in on/off environment ( j)
and a part in continue mode.
Thus, supposing a packaging with four layers, which are
different alternatively, where each one is composed by X
four equal products, a possible lay-out is shown in Y
Fig.22. Two different kinds of cylindrical products, (i+2) ( j+2)
which are sketched in white and grey colors in Fig.22,
are supposed to be positioned along two different lines in
the working area of a Cartesian robot. Thus, a typical Fig.23 Sketch of the pick and place operation performed
operation of pick and place from the supplying line to a by the Cartesian robot
square packaging box has to be performed by taking into
account that four different layers with group of four The programming of the Cartesian robot has been carried
products are required. out by sketching and analyzing in depth the pick and
The Cartesian robot allows displacements of the end- place operation, as reported in Fig.23. In particular, the
effector within a working area of 60000 mm2 since the pick operation starts from the position (i) to (i+1), and
maximum displacement along the X-axis is 200 mm and then to (i+2) in order to finish in (i+3) that coincides
that along the Y-axis is 300 mm. with (i+1). Likewise, the place operation starts from the
Instead, the vertical displacements of the end-effector are ( j) position to ( j+1), and then to ( j+2) in order to finish
carried out in on/off environment, which simplifies the in ( j+3) that coincides with ( j+1). This sketching has
programming and the control, but gives some limitation been used to program the PLC controller as reported in
in the performances of the robot. However, these Fig.24. Moreover, the programming has been carried out
difficulties have been overcome by using an end- by considering that a part of the electro-pneumatic
effector, which is provided of a suitable auto-adaptability system operates in on/off environment and a part
for reaching different vertical positions, even if the operates as a pneumatic servo-system.
actuator is operated in on/off environment. A solution
that seems to be appropriate for this application has been
a suction-cup with vertical auto-adaptability. Rung n.1 -Positioning from
Posizionamento (i)ato(i+1)
da (i) (i+1) Rung n.5 - Positioning from
Posizionamento (j) = (i+3)
da (j)=(i+3) to (j+1)
a (j+1)
Kn a0 Kn+1 EMERG Kn+1 a0 Kn+2 EMERG
V(n) V(n+1)

PGM(n) PGM(n) PGM(n+1) PGM(n+1)

Rung n.2 -Positioning from

Posizionamento (i+1)ato
da (i+1) (i+2)
(i+2) Rung n.6 -Positioning from
Posizionamento da (j+1)
(j+1) ato (j+2)
A- A-
PGM(n) M-ES PGM(n+1) M-ES


A+ A+


X O Rung n.3 -Grasping

Presa pezzoobject in (i+2)
in (i+2) Rung n.7 - Object
pezzo inin (j+2)
PGM(n) a1 VEN-K+1 V+ PGM(n+1) a1 VEN-K+1


Rung n.4 - Positioning fromda

Riposizionamento (i+2)
(1+2)toa (i+3)
(i+3) Rung n.8 - Positioning fromda
Riposizionamento (j+2)
(j+2)toa (j+3)
A- PGM(n+1) VAC A-


A+ A+


Kn+1 Kn+2


Fig.24 Ladder diagram program to perform the pick and
Fig.22 Lay-out for the automatic packaging place operation of the Cartesian robot
The actuation of the Cartesian robot for obtaining the The control of the Cartesian robot is performed in a mix
displacements along the X, Y and Z-axes is performed by environment because both cylinders 1 and 2 are
three double-acting pneumatic cylinders. controlled in continue mode through two Festo UCC 100
The electro-pneumatic circuit of Fig.25 is composed by controllers in order to obtain a suitable positioning of the
Festo components: the rod-less pneumatic cylinders 1 vacuum gripper in the plane XY, while the cylinder 3 and
and 2 of type 25-200 and 25-300, respectively, where the vacuum gripper 4 are controlled in on/off mode by
each one is operated through a flow proportional valve means of a PLC (Programmable-Logic-Controller),
of type MPYE-5-1/8; the pneumatic cylinder 3 of type which also performs a suitable supervision of the whole
DGLL-25-160 with magnetic piston and double piston manipulation. The PLC is connected through a serial
rod, which is operated by the solenoid-solenoid valve of port RS-232 with a common PC in order to implement
type JMYH-5/2-M5; the vacuum gripper 4 as composed suitable programs to perform several flexible packaging.
by a suction-cup of type SMC with diameter 25 mm and In particular, the ladder-diagram of Fig.24 has been
maximum compression of 50 mm, which is actuated by implemented in the PLC controller in order to test the
the ejector of type VAD-1/8 and operated by the pick and place operation of the Cartesian robot displayed
solenoid / spring-return valve of type MFH-3/2-M5. in Fig.26. Thus, supposing that two different kinds of
Moreover, two check-choke valves of type GRLZ-1/8 small plastic discs have to be packaged in a square box
allows a manual speed regulation of the cylinder 3. Both through a multilayer positioning, as sketched in the lay-
end-stroke positions of the cylinder 3 are detected out of Fig.22, a suitable test-bed has been built at LARM
through the Reed sensors a0 and a1, while the (Laboratory of Robotics and Mechatronics) in Cassino.
displacements along the X and Y-axes of the cylinders 1 The multilayer positioning has been possible because of
and 2 are detected by means of two linear potentiometer the particular adaptability of the suction-cup, even if the
position sensors. Finally, the vacuum inside the chamber pneumatic cylinder 3 is operated in on/off environment
between the suction-cup and the object to manipulate is by reaching the same end-stroke positions. The
detected through a vacuum switch sensor. experimental tests have given good performances.

1) Axis
(1) AsseX X 2)
Y Y 3)(3)
Z Z (4) 4)Organo di Presa
Vacuum gripper



A- A+ V+

(6) PC



Fig.25 Electro-pneumatic circuit of the three-axes Cartesian robot

Fig.26 View of the three-axes Cartesian robot with pneumatic actuation and programmable electronic control, which
has been used for testing the automatic packaging sketched in the lay-out of Fig.22

6. Conclusions
The design and test of several kinds of pneumatic 8. Figliolini G., Sorli M., “Open-loop force control of a three-
systems for production automation have been presented. finger gripper through PWM modulated pneumatic digital
This activity has been developed in the courses dealing valves”, Journal of Robotics and Mechatronics, 2000, 12
with pneumatics at the University of Cassino. (4), pp.480-493.
In particular, a vacuum gripper and an on/off automatic 9. Figliolini G., "A force control system for grippers with
pneumatic actuation", 10 th RAAD Workshop on Robotics in
packaging have been considered for what concerns Alpe-Adria-Danube Region, Wien, 2001, paper RD-9.
on/off systems, while a proportional pressure valve and a 10. Rea P., Figliolini G., “Actuation force control of
robotic automatic packaging have been analyzed for Ca.U.M.Ha. robotic hand through PWM modulated
what concerns the analogue systems. pneumatic digital valves”, PhD Symposium - 3 rd Fluid
Power Net International, Terrassa, 2004.
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